Results tagged “Ventura Police Department” from The Court Reporter

The "Adam's Apple" Case

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It was Friday evening  nearly two years ago,  a group of young people were inside a car parked at The Crosses at Grant Park in Ventura, some smoking marijuana and others had been drinking alcohol.

An armed gang member walked up to them and demanded a backpack that had been sitting on top of the car and after, he was told he couldn't have it. The assailant fired the gun, struck Chase Christiansen in the forehead with the butt of the gun and left with the backpack, according to prosecutors.

The incident took place on May 27,2011 at about 6:45 p.m. Nobody saw how the assailant left the park, according to prosecutors.

Christiansen was the only person who was able to identify Maximiliano  "Max" Ledezma as the assailant, and pointed  to him in court when he  testified  in Ledezma's  trial.

It ended Friday afternoon with attorneys giving closing arguments.

What lead to 23-year-old Ledezma's arrest was a 14 second video recording taken by Jacqueline Ayala who was in the backseat of the car. The video, which was shown to jurors, only shows a male image from the neck to mid-waist standing beside the vehicle and his voice is heard. The assailant is wearing a T-shirt.

From Ayala's video recording,  a gang investigator was able to make an arrest after an investigation, he said he identified the Adam's apple. He got Christiansen to identify Ledezma as the armed gunman.

But Ledezma's lawyer Claudia Bautista poked holes in the prosecution's case, telling jurors that this case based solely  on witness identification, a gang investigator's linking the Adam's apple in the video to Ledezma.

"This case is solely based on eyewitness identification," Bautista told jurors during her closing argument. "The sole issue here was whether Mr. Ledezma was at the Crosses on May 27."

She pointed out  to jurors that Christensen - the lone witness who identified the gunman - was  intoxicated along with the owner of the backpack, Ricky Garcia, and others in the vehicle.

Adding, "eyewitness testimony  is so sensitive and so dangerous and in order for you to rely on it, you have to be guided by the law."

Bautista said the Ventura gang Detective Todd Hourigan focused on the Adam's apple, which he described in court as prominent and concluded that it was Ledezma's and arrested him on June 6, 2011.

During cross examination of Hourigan, Bautista mockingly asked him if he had "prominent Adam's apple" training. But during her closing, she praised Hourigan, saying that he was a hardworking cop who is doing his best to put Ventura's street thugs who terrorize others in jail.

However, she said Hourigan is a gang expert, and there should be much more evidence than someone's Adam's apple, and a lone witness to put her client at the crime scene. She suggested that Hourigan put his finger on her client's photograph during the six-photo lineup when he showed it to Christiansen who picked him out.

"Detective Hourigan is sincere but he is mistaken, but he is not lying," Bautista told jurors. "He is invested in the conclusion. He is sincere, and he is invested."

Nor,did Hourigan plant evidence or had an axe to grind or was out to convict her client to get even, said Bautista.

Bautista said Hourigan lacks training in witness identification, adding that the fault lies with the Ventura Police Department who, she blames, for not giving Hourigan and other officers the proper resources to do their jobs.

"It's Max Ledezma. I know that Adam's apple anywhere," she said Hourigan concluded.  

Sabo said the defense brought in Nicky Medel as an alibi for Ledezma. She had not said a word until about 11 months ago when shesaid Ledezma was doing yard work for her at the time of the incident.

Sabo questioned why Medel  didn't  call police as soon as she found out he had been arrest.

Right after the robbery, Sabo said the backpack was found during a traffic stop by police with known gang members inside the vehicle. Ledezma knew two of those inside the vehicle but he wasn't inside, said Sabo.

Sabo said the "fatty deposit" on the chin and "cleft chin" matches Ledezma's chin; Bautista countered that nobody said anything on the stand about a "fatty deposit" or cleft chin up until Sabo brought it up during closing arguments.

Bautista put up images of famous celebrity chins, asking jurors if they knew who these men where before revealing their identity.

Sabo said there is plenty of evidence that indicates that Ledezma , whose moniker is Baby Mousie," is a member of the Ventura Avenue criminal street gang;  Bautista said her client admitted this on the stand, saying he was a gang associate.

Bautista urged the jury not to convict her client because he is a gang associate or because of the actions of a criminal street gang.

Sabo said Hourigan looked at hundreds of photo to conclude that it was Ledezma's Adam's apple.

"Clearly, you see the defendant's right eye and his nose" on his profile, said Sabo about the video.

Adding that Ledezma is guilty of aiding and abetting in this crime even though he might not have ever handled the backpack, said Sabo.  

Sabo said Ledezma got a fair trial and is entitled to one. But when jurors examine the facts and circumstances, Ledezma is guilty of robbery and aggravated assault and other related charges, Sabo told jurors.

Bautista said her client didn't do it, and that jurors can't convict him if they surmise that he might be guilty or is likely guilty or probably or perhaps he did it. She said the legal stand is beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted of all the felonies, Sabo said in an interview that Ledezma could be sent to prison for 33 years.

Sabo said the key to this crime is the identification of the Adam's apple.

"That's what it really boils down to," said Sabo.



Ventura Settles Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against Police

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By Raul Hernandez

Ventura County Star

The City of Ventura agreed to settle a lawsuit filed against police officers who allegedly severely beat a man while officers were searching for a stolen iPad last year.

In a press release issued late Tuesday evening, the city agreed to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Denny D. Fields for $285,000, according to Assistant Chief of Police Quinn Fenwick.

"While this is a significant amount of money, the city's Risk Manager Ellis Green notes that the potential exposure to the city and its taxpayers was considerably more, as a federal civil rights case can result in an award of hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney's fees in addition to compensatory damages, regardless of any contributory fault on the part of the claimant," Fenwick stated.

Adding that the police department is subjected to very few civil rights lawsuits like the one filed by Fields.

 "Nevertheless, the Department has taken this matter very seriously, thoroughly reviewing its policies and procedures as well as the conduct of its officers, and using the incident to identify and implement training procedures in order to ensure the continued trust in the Department by the public it serves," Fenwick stated.

Adding that the police department is subjected to very few civil rights lawsuits like the one filed by Fields.

 "Nevertheless, the Department has taken this matter very seriously, thoroughly reviewing its policies and procedures as well as the conduct of its officers, and using the incident to identify and implement training procedures in order to ensure the continued trust in the Department by the public it serves," Fenwick stated.

"The incident with Mr. Fields involved the City's officers reacting to a volatile, violent  and dynamic situation," according to Fenwick.

He said the police department would decline further comment on this matter.

In an interview, Fields' lawyer Brian Vogel said he had not read the press release so he couldn't make specific comments.

"I look forward to seeing real changes in the police's policies, procedures and tactics to ensure that the constitutional rights of our citizens aren't violated," Vogel said.

Fields alleged in the civil rights lawsuit that four or five officers, including Craig Kelly and Joel Kline, knocked on the door of his girlfriend's duplex on Dec. 25, 2011, saying a GPS signal indicated a stolen iPad was inside the residence.

Alethia Alvarado, Fields' girlfriend and the mother of his children, was also named as a plaintiff.

Vogel claims that officers searched Alvardo's duplex where the incident happened was searched by police without a search warrant and while she was away.

Fenwick, stated in the press release that a residential burglary was reported on Dec. 22, 2011 and three days later, officers received information that one of the items stolen was at a particular residence in the city.

Officers went to that residence where they encountered Fields, and following brief questioning, Fields started to close the door on the officers and a physical altercation ensued which resulted in Fields and two of the officers being injured,  Fenwick stated.

But Vogel had said that Fields told the officers that he was there waiting for his children so he could give them Christmas presents. One officer accused him of "delaying our investigation," the lawsuit stated. Fields denied being on parole or probation.

Vogel had said his client showed them his driver's license. Fields denied that he knew anything about the iPad, Vogel had said. As Fields was trying to call his lawyer, Vogel had said the officers then rushed inside, beat and used a Taser on Fields, and allowed a police dog to bite him.

Alvarado's house was searched by police without a warrant and officers didn't find the stolen iPad inside the residence, Vogel had said.

Fields was taken to the hospital where an officer identified as "Officer Henderson" drove Fields to an emergency room, cursed at him and accused him of breaking an officer's hand. Fields denied the allegation, saying the officer's hand probably was broken when he struck Fields in the face with his fist, according to Vogel.

According to the lawsuit, a doctor told an unnamed detective who was taking photographs of Fields' injuries that Fields needed a CAT scan, the lawsuit states. The detective refused to wait and spent at least five more minutes questioning Fields. Another officer told a nurse at the emergency room that Fields' wasn't bitten and to "just wipe it and it would be fine."  But the ER nurse, however, insisted that it was a dog bite and that the wound needed stitches

Fields, of Ventura, was arrested on suspicion of mayhem on Dec. 25, 2011. The District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute him two days later, citing insufficient evidence, the lawsuit states.

Shortly before his release from jail, Fields was taken to a conference room, where he met with Fenwick and Green, according to the 52-page lawsuit filed Aug. 6.

Fenwick and Green apologized to Fields for the incident and offered him $500 for each day he was in jail, an additional $5,000 and Christmas presents for his children, Vogel had stated.

The lawsuit states that Fenwick allegedly mentioned Fields' 2010 arrest for possessing drugs for sale and stated: "What I would like to do right now is clear what happened on Christmas. Even though one of our officers got hurt, we are willing to forget about this. We won't file against you if you don't file against us basically as of right now, I'd like to know what we can do to make your Christmas better."

The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at